Loyola’s softball team is beginning the new season with a key member of the team missing.
Assistant coach Brittany Cervantes has decided to leave the Ramblers to play professionally in Japan. In the three years she spent at Loyola, Cervantes helped players break multiple school hitting records.
Cervantes had a large impact on the team, according to junior outfielder Erica Nagel.
“For the hitters overall, she really helped them develop their hitting skills and become better,” said Nagel. “She was the outfielding coach, and as an outfielder she really helped us develop.”
Senior infielder Brie Pasquale agreed with Nagel about Cervantes’ impact on the team.
“She has so much knowledge of the game from her going through similar experiences from college to professional,” said Pasquale. “She expanded my knowledge on how to play first base and helped out a lot with hitting for the whole team.”
Cervantes, a 25-year-old first base player, played college softball at the University of Kentucky and professionally for the Chicago Bandits. She was recently invited to the Team USA selection camp to try out to play for the U.S. in the World Cup of Softball.
However, Cervantes’ move to Japan to play professional softball isn’t a surprise. Players in the top softball league in the U.S. — the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league — have salaries ranging from only $4,000 to $25,000. Those who play in NPF are only able to play for a limited amount of time before they’re forced to look for higher-paying jobs.
There’s more money to be made in leagues overseas, but only the best of the best make enough to be able to live on their softball salaries alone. In Japan, where Cervantes has decided to make her next stop, many players need to work part-time jobs on the side if they want to continue playing softball.
But playing professionally in any sport is a valuable asset, and Cervantes’ experience in college, as a professional and as a recent Team USA selection camp member helped Loyola’s team a great deal, according to head coach Jeff Tylka.
“She had great experience playing in the Southeastern Conference, so it gave our kids a little bit of experience with someone from the big stage and playing in front of bigger crowds,” said Tylka. “I think [her selection] meant a lot to the team. Our pitching coach Jordan Taylor played for Team USA for seven years, so having two assistant coaches that played for team USA, it helped show the players that softball doesn’t have to end after college.”
While team members are sorry to lose Cervantes’ coaching skills, according to Tylka, her charisma is another beloved quality.
“I think they will definitely miss her gameday personality,” Tylka said. “The thing they will miss more is her being around as opposed to the softball attributes. She was just a fun person, and I think that’s what the kids will miss the most.”
But coaching changes are nothing new to the team. This year’s seniors have watched two assistants and two head coaches leave for better coaching or playing opportunities during their time at Loyola. Pasquale said change is now common for the team.
“Coaches leave all the time and we’re OK,” said Pasquale. “This is a great experience for her, and we have great people here to support us and back us up.”
Nagel said the team was supportive of Cervantes’ decision, but the Ramblers are looking forward to an improved season.
“She had a great opportunity in front of her,” said Nagel. “[For] any softball player, [playing professionally is] something that they would want in their career. Our team has the talent this year to make it a long way. Obviously she was a great coach, but we are going to be OK without her.”
The team is scheduled to open its spring season on Feb. 12 against Murray State in Kennesaw, Georgia.